Uhura, NASA Airborne Astronomy Ambassador, Flies In Real Space and Recruits Astronauts

SOFIA Airborne Observatory: The Telescopes That Fly

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Nichols Survived Al Capone Before She Was Born

Nichelle (Grace) Nichols, who was born in a Chicago suburb and has performed as a star singer in France, is the most beautiful woman in the world for many reasons beyond physical beauty. She is beautiful in her 80s after surviving a stroke in mid-2015 and looks as though she was never ill.

However, long before the stroke threaten her health, Al Capone threatened her life.

From attending an early and very small Star Trek convention in which Ms. Nichols spoke and then met us all briefly, and in reading her autobiography. I learned a lot about this survivor. Her father was a town mayor who was hassled by Al Capone in the 1930s gangster days of Chicago and Capone appeared at the family home. Nichelle's mother was pregnant at the time, but held a pistol under a pillow covering her stomach while sitting on the couch, waiting to stop any trouble herself. Capone left the house without harming anyone.

The Martian's Mark Whatney (Matt Damon) never faced Al Capone, even though the Whatney character may become nearly as famous as Uhura, if a set of sequels is filmed and creates box office success. Still, Uhura and actress Nichelle Nichols are so popular that even Popular Mechanics features them.

Has she ever been on the iconic Wheaties Box? She should be featured.


Nichelle Nichols Flies Into the Stratosphere On SOFIA

How Did Uhura Get Into the Stratosphere For Real?

It took a lot of surviving to make that September 2015 trip into the stratosphere.

One set of the star's grandparents were a slave owner's son and a lovely woman who was a slave on their properties. No matter how much the slave owner threatened his son and disinherited him, he would not be persuaded to give up the idea of marriage to the woman he loved. So began the survival of the lines that produced the star who would be Uhura.

Al, Capone could not interrupt the line of birth. Not yet popular in the USA, Nichols pursued a successful performance career in France. Once on the science fiction show, she worked consistently, even though she did not have a written contract as most of the others had. Next, Martin Luther King, Jr. persuaded Nichelle to forget about quitting her role on Star Trek, because she was such an important role model to black men and women - and to all women and everyone who wanted to go up into space.

The actress began recruiting astronauts for NASA after the original run of Star Trek and has continued to be a spokesperson for our space agency for about half a century. She has toured NASA facilities, spoken on the agency's behalf, recruited employees, recorded film spots, and flown on the NASA C-141 Astronomy Observatory.

The 2015 stroke he had barely touched her except to require intermittent use of a cane and her recovery was quick. So quick, that she flow into the stratosphere on the SOFIA in mid-September with five educators.

These educators and similar ambassadors are teachers in grades 6 - 12 who are advocating astronomy education, much like the free telescope-sharing activities offered by Planetary Resources with the promotional support of Star Trek's Brent Spiner and Robert Picardo.

The Observatory That Flies On a Boeing 747

SOFIA is the NASA owned and operated Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy. Unlike those that sit on the ground, this observatory flies in space. It is a modified Boeing 747 airplane and these 747s have been in the news frequently, as Boeing begins gearing up an assembly plant for them in China.

Where Is the Stratosphere?

Before the Right Stuff astronauts of the US Space Program piloted into the skies in capsules atop rockets, men in helium-balloon gondolas powered by automobile batteries rode into space. Once there, they made observations and parachuted from high altitudes.

The most famous balloon gondola is the Star Gazer, on display in the space wing of the National Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio, which lies in the state's Space Corridor. I first saw the shiny gondola there during the spring of 1963, when the museum was much smaller than today's facilities complex.

The Star Gazer is most famous of the lot, because Star Trek's Captain Picard served on a spacecraft of that name before taking command of the Enterprise. Previous gondolas included the Project Manhigh I, II and III. Oddly enough, a Swiss scientist in 1931 flew such a gondola almost 52,000 feet into the sky and his name was Auguste Piccard.

Approximate Mile Markers In Space

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The gondolas did reach pretty high -

  • Manhigh I -- 96,784 feet, by Captain Joseph Kittinger. June, 1957
  • Manhigh II -- 101,516 feet, by Major David Simons. August, 1957.
  • Manhigh III -- 98,097 feet, by Lieutenant Clifton McClure. October, 1958
  • Star Gazer II -- 82,200 feet by Captain Kittinger and Astronomer William White. Mid-December, 1962 in Alamogordo, New Mexico.

Based on information form the National Center for Atmospheric Research: The stratospheric height varies at different Earth latitudes (lowest at the poles), but ranges generally from approximately

  • 6.2 miles or 33,000 feet above the ground at the bottom boundary and
  • Extends upwards to around 31 miles, which is well over 160,000 feet.

All of the gondola trips mentioned above reached the stratosphere and this is the layer of space into which Nichelle Nichols recently rode.

The stratosphere is the area of the atmosphere above Earth to which our new Space Elevators will reach, generally about 12 miles above the Earth's surface.

SOFIA flight, 2015: Susan Oltman, Michael Shinabery, Jeffrey Killebrew, Nichelle Nichols, April Whitt and Jo Dodds. In the back is Ivor Dawson.
SOFIA flight, 2015: Susan Oltman, Michael Shinabery, Jeffrey Killebrew, Nichelle Nichols, April Whitt and Jo Dodds. In the back is Ivor Dawson. | Source

Uhura Recruited Much of the US Space Program

Beloved and dedicated Uhura has recruited many astronauts that include Sally Ride, our first American woman astronaut; Colonel Guion Bluford, the first African-American astronaut; Judith Resnik from my home state; Ronald McNair; Charles Bolden (NASA head since 2009); and Lori Garver, a former NASA executive.

General (retired) Charles F. Bolden Jr. during his astronaut tenure 1981 - 1994.
General (retired) Charles F. Bolden Jr. during his astronaut tenure 1981 - 1994. | Source

Uhura Recruits Actors To Work For NASA

Nichelle Nichols has been an advocate and promoter of space exploration and aerospace careers for generations of people since the 1960s. She still makes Star Trek films with George Takei (a survivor of American WWII Japanese Internment camps) and Walter Koenig (who really is of Russian descent) on the Internet.

Woman, Actress, Space Travel Promoter

What is the most important contribution made by Nichelle Nichols?

  • Singing, dancing, and acting on the US stage and in France.
  • Portraying Nyota Uhura via television, films, and YouTube productions.
  • Recruiting US Astronauts; supporting NASA space research and education missions.
  • Flying into the stratosphere to illustrate that senior citizens and others can travel in space.
  • Surviving life's challenges and providing us with hope.
See results without voting

Ms. Nichols Promotes the NASA Orion Capsule

Last Shuttle Crew Parody's Star Trek 2009 Reboot Posters

Commander Mark Kelly is in the center. His brother Scott went to the International Space Station in 2015 to spend one year in space.
Commander Mark Kelly is in the center. His brother Scott went to the International Space Station in 2015 to spend one year in space. | Source

© 2015 Patty Inglish

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5 comments

mckbirdbks profile image

mckbirdbks 11 months ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

Hello Patty. This presentation covers so much territory. I guess that I missed the manned gondola rides into the stratosphere. I did not follow Nichelle Nichols career. It sounds like she made the most of the talents she was given and acquired. That is a nice success story.

Plenty of research went into this, as well as many other of your presentations.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 11 months ago from North America Author

Hi Mike - I've always admired Ms. Nichols and keep my eye open for news about her and read her website. She's also written some science fiction, but I really like the new YouTube Star Trek projects. She married a Vulcan in one of them - Spock's rival Stonn in the original series. Lots going on.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 11 months ago from California Gold Country

Very facinating article, Patty. It seems particularly interesting that MLK encouraged her in her entertainment carreer, and saw how important she was as a role model.

I didn't vote in your poll, but have to think that if she had not attracted someone's attention with singing and dancing, she would not have become Uhura -- and that job led to all of her other accomplishments. Quite an outstanding career so far, and it looks like she is not finished.


lawrence01 profile image

lawrence01 11 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

Patty

Great stuff! I've been checking some of NASA's sites myself recently and it's fascinating what they are doing and preparing to do!

Nichelle herself was a pioneer in so many ways that it's only right that she be working with the pioneers of space exploration!

Great hub

Lawrence


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 11 months ago from North America Author

@Rochelle Frank and lawrence01 - I appreciate your comments!~ Nichelle's life is fascinating and always including something new, isn't it?

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